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Vocabulary Building with Flashcards

Flashcards are a great way to study new words, but students don’t always know how to use them.  Here are classroom systems and activities I have used to get my students learning with flashcards.

Organization Tips

  • Cutting Expenses:  File cards provide the sturdiest paper, but they can be pricey.  My students cut 3×5 cards into quarters.
  • Rainbow of Colors:  Use a different colored card for each set of vocabulary. For example:  green: household items; blue: clothing; white: verbs.
  • Plastic Sandwich Bags:  Students can carry all the cards they need in one little sandwich bag.

Creating Sets of Flashcards

In my class, students identify words they want to study.  I write the words on the board and students copy all the words on cards: one word per card.

On the other side of each card, students can:

  • Write a translation of the word.
  • Write a sentence with the word.
  • Draw an image to illustrate the word.
  • Conjugate the verb or write it in a different tense or form (participles).
  • Write other words in the word family: for example: Front side:  class Backside: classroom, classmate.
  • Leave the back-side blank.

Using Flashcards in Class

It is not enough to make sets of cards.  Students need to use them in the classroom to develop this study habit.  This is how we use the cards in class:


In pairs: Student A picks up a flashcard and asks “How do you spell [word on flashcard]?”  Student B spells the word aloud.  Then they switch roles.  My students keep a piece of scrap-paper handy to write the word out as they spell it.

Point and Say

In pairs: Student A picks up a flashcard, mimes its meaning, or points to it in the classroom or in a picture.  Student B says the word.  For example:

  • Colors: students point to an object with the color.
  • Verbs: student act out the verb action.
  • Household items:  student point to the item in a picture.


Individually or in pairs, students sort their cards into categories.  The categories vary according to the word set.  For example;

  • Clothing:  indoor-outdoor, winter-summer, casual-formal, female-male
  • Foods: fruits-vegetables, healthy-unhealthy; sweet-salty;   raw-cooked


Individually or in pairs, students alphabetize their cards.


For this activity, one side of the flashcards must be blank. In pairs, students join their two sets of words and play concentration.  Students lay all the cards face down.  They take turns flipping over two cards at a time to find a matching pair of words.

Composing Sentences

  • Writing: Individually students write sentences with the words.   The teacher circulates to correct their sentences.
  • Speaking:  In pairs: Student A picks up a card and reads the word aloud.  Student B uses the word in a sentence.  Student A listens and takes dictation.  The teacher circulates and checks the sentences students have composed.

The possibilities are endless!  Please share your ideas.